TimeformUS Stakes Plays from Keeneland and Churchill

FRIDAY

The G2 Elkhorn Stakes
Keeneland, Race 9
By Alan Mann

The Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes has drawn an overflow field of 14 on Friday's closing day card at Keeneland.  Hangover Kid (10-1) stretches out to a mile and a half after returning from a 105-day layoff to race at a mile and a sixteenth. This somewhat lightly raced (record of 21-6-6-3) six-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid has never run quite this far.  However, his efforts at the slightly shorter distance of 1 3/8 miles indicate that he should like it just fine; in fact, he could very well thrive on it.

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In both of the 11-furlong races highlighted here, Hangover Kid closed quite well for minor shares, earning identical figures of 111.  The latter effort ranks as the co-best Spotlight figure in the field.  (Click here for more information on our Spotlight figure.)  Both times, he made up ground despite having to close into paces that did not significantly slow down late. Indeed, both races featured late pace figures that were rated as fast (in red) relative to the overall pace and final time of the race. This is further illustrated by looking at the result chart of his two-back effort in the Grade 3 Red Smith.

TimeformUS Chart

Note that among the top eight finishers, only Hangover Kid and Tannery (who in his prior effort came from dead last to win the Grade 1 EP Taylor at a mile and a quarter) were able to make up any ground late. Little wonder; after crawling the third quarter of the race in 26 seconds, they went 24.67 to the 3/8ths pole, and then sprinted home from there. Hangover Kid zipped those last three furlongs in 35.85 seconds and missed by a diminishing half length despite swinging six wide turning for home.  A look at the chart of his third-place finish in the G1 United Nations tells a similar story.  With the second best late pace rating in the field--a solid 112--we think that the extra distance will play to his distinct advantage in the Elkhorn.  

Trainer Jason Servis rarely ventures to Keeneland; he has no starts there over the last year.  It would appear as if he has the best intentions in this Grade 2 spot.  Hangover Kid's fine rally for second in his return race should set him up perfectly for this marathon affair.  Servis has a perfect trainer rating of 100 with horses running second time off the layoff. Hangover Kid is our selection.

Temeraine (5-1) has a fine record of 4-1-1-1 at this distance on the grass, and would seem an obvious contender.  Amen Kitten (8-1), a son of the distance-loving Kitten's Joy, has improved since stretching out in distance.  Eagle Poise (8-1) has won going as far as a mile and three quarters.

The play: Hangover Kid to win.

SATURDAY

The G3 Derby Trial
Churchill Downs, Race 8
By Mike Beer

The Grade 3 Derby Trial, a one-turn mile to be run on Saturday night at Churchill Downs, drew a field of 10 three-year-olds at entry time, including a pair of highly regarded colts from trainer Bob Baffert, in Bayern and Chitu.  Chitu, winner of the Sunland Derby with a career-best 106 speed figure in his last start, would likely be a clear-cut favorite were he to actually run here, but unless you're one of the blissful few out there lacking a Twitter account, you are already aware that Baffert wants to run his son of Henny Hughes next Saturday, in a race called the Kentucky Derby, and is likely to scratch. 

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That may leave Bayern to play the role of favorite in the Derby Trial--we say "may" because Baffert would also like to run Bayern in the Derby, and is reportedly going to wait until Saturday to decide whether to go ahead and start here, or take his chances that there will be enough late defections to allow his colt, 23rd-ranked on the points list, to get into the big race.  Needless to say, waiting to see what ultimately happens with these two horses will be paramount to deciding how you play the Derby Trial. 

Were Bayern to run Saturday, he would be the horse to beat, but also one we would be looking to play against.  Because he is so lightly raced, we must stay open to the possibility that Bayern could still improve. And the fact that he is already the fastest horse in the field (assuming Chitu is out), with 104 and 105 TimeformUS speed figures for his last two starts, makes that a possibility to consider very seriously.  However, taking apart his running lines may offer a bit of a different perspective.  After winning his debut in virtual wire-to-wire fashion over a speed-favoring track, Bayern crushed first-level allowance foes, with an assist from the moderate pace he was permitted to set.   From there he went on to the Derby trail and shipped to Oaklawn for the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.  All things considered, Bayern was a pretty disappointing 3rd in Arkansas as the 8/5 favorite.  He made the lead on a relatively easy pace while accompanied by a 50/1 shot, couldn't get control of the race from that rival, and was no match when longshot winner Danza came to challenge him at the top of the stretch.  The turn-back in distance may work for him, but he did not draw well (he's down on the rail).   

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The two horses that interest us most as alternatives to Bayern are Friendswith K Mill and Myositis Dan.  Friendswith K Mill was recently trounced by California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, but if one declines to hold that race against him, he presents the appearance of an improving three-year-old.  After breaking his maiden on turf with a solid late run, he switched over to dirt to post a new top figure of 100 when a game 2nd to a front-running Baffert favorite.  To date, Friendswith K Mill's only other dirt start came in his debut, where he actually ran quite well despite being forced into a five-wide run through the turn.  He figures to be an attractive price in this race.

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Myositis Dan has won only on Keeneland's synthetic surface to this point, but, like Friendswith K Mill, has run well on dirt despite not winning, most notably in the pair of runner-up finishes at Gulfstream over the winter.  Note that he was forced to take an aggressive run at the lead on March 1st after tracking rated splits, and was assigned the same speed figure as winner Anchor Down (an undefeated Pletcher colt), with next-out Arkansas Derby winner Danza left behind in 3rd.  He also projects for a stalking trip out in the clear Saturday.

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